On January 9, the United Kingdom’s (UK) attempt at launching a rocket to space ultimately fell short, leading to the devastating loss of nine satellites. The California-based company that created the rocket, Virgin Orbit, claims that the rocket experienced an “anomaly” which led to the compromise of the mission.
On the day of the launch, things initially went smoothly. A modified Boeing 747 lifted off from an airstrip in Cornwall, carrying with it the nine satellites it was supposed to bring to orbit. The rocket attached to the plane successfully detached itself and fired its first stage as planned, but in its second stage, a problem occurred. The rocket ended up reaching above the atmosphere, technically in outer space, but the mission failed before the satellites could reach orbit. Calvin Johnson ’25 stated, “It was disappointing to see the failure, but I think it is ultimately a good thing because we should be developing things to get into space.”
After the results of the launch, Dan Hart, the CEO of Virgin Orbit told the media, “We will work tirelessly to understand the nature of the failure, make corrective actions, and return to orbit as soon as we have completed a full investigation and mission assurance process.” Though the first launch on British soil ended in failure, there is still hope for the UK Space program. Contrary to the relative unknowing of space at CA, the UK has embarked on the quest to orbit. The war in Ukraine has led to an incentive to launch more rockets on UK ground as the use of Russian rockets has become impossible. The need for satellites in Ukraine for better cellular and internet communication during the war has grown, further inducing the interest in space. Hopefully, with the help of Virgin Orbit, the UK will be able to help fill some of this need.
As they saw earlier this month, launching rockets is not easy, and the UK has already spent a lot of money on the endeavor. For one, launching rockets is extremely expensive due to high resource and time costs. When asked about the hardest part of the rocket launching process, Calvin explained, “The assembly of the rocket is definitely the hardest part, you have to coordinate lots of people to make a super complex machine.” Virgin Orbit also usually charges 12 million dollars per launch, and costs can get much higher depending on the payload and purpose of the mission. Along with this, the UK has funded about 20 million GBP (24 million US dollars) for work at Newquay Airport in Cornwall to become a Spaceport. Transforming the airport completely. Despite the high price tag, the UK is willing to continue improving their space program.
It is hard to say what will become of the UK Space program. But despite the failure of their first launch, the aspirations to launch satellites into orbit from UK ground still stands. People at Concord Academy like Calvin are looking forward to the UK to change the game and join the space race.